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How much time are you going to save on commuter rail: part one

Capital Metro has put up a new presentation on rail-bus connectivity which also includes schedule times for the train service. Now we can see how much of an advantage this service will provide its potential passengers. Step one is "Crestview Station", a supposed but not really TOD which is located within walking distance of a train station.

Each table below is based on a commute leaving the origin point at roughly 7:30 AM (for bus scheduling). I'm taking Capital Metro at their word that the average shuttle bus trip length will be 10 minutes even though I suspect it will be worse. It certainly won't be reliable - but the train schedules will. In each table, a row just indicates a step (a travel or wait step). Updated walk time for car case based on input from Kedron et al. Note I'm assuming faculty/staff, not students.

Train times taken from page 4 of the PDF.

Crestview Station to UT

StepDriveLocal Bus (#1)Express Bus (#101)Rail
115-25 minutesWait for bus (10 minutes)2Wait for bus (10 minutes)2Wait for train (10 minutes)2
2Walk 10-15 minutes to office3Bus: 19 minutes5Bus: 12 minutes5Train: 10 minutes
3 Walk 0-5 minutes to officeWalk 0-5 minutes to officeTransfer to shuttle bus (5-10 minutes)4
4   Bus: 10 minutes5
5   Walk 0-10 minutes to office1
Total Time25-40 minutes29-34 minutes22-27 minutes35-50 minutes

Notes from superscripts above:

  1. Offices are more likely closer to the Guadalupe end than the San Jacinto end of campus, but that still presents a range of walking times.
  2. For the train you'll really want to be out there 10 minutes early (penalty for missing is a 30-minute wait), and 5 minutes for the bus (less penalty for missing), but the bus is less reliable, so I give both 10 minutes of "waiting time" for the bus running late.
  3. The walk from parking around UT to office is going to vary widely, but almost nobody gets to park right next to their office, whereas some people get dropped off by the bus essentially that close.
  4. A load of passengers headed to UT will actually require more than one bus to service. In other words, if we assume that the train has 300 passengers, and a third are going to UT, those 100 passengers are going to require several shuttle buses - and loading even one bus from zero to full is going to take a few minutes. Of course, if relatively few people ride the train, the bus loading would be quicker.
  5. Taking CM's word on the bus schedules here. There is going to be some unreliability built into here, but since I took their word on the shuttle bus time, I did it here too to be fair (similar traffic interference in both cases). Not as bad as the downtown case below - since I'm assuming a dropoff at 24th/Guadalupe for the local/express bus cases, there's only about a half-mile of truly congested conditions to worry about. The shuttle bus is going to drop off on mostly San Jacinto, so no need for a range here.

Conclusions for trip to UT:

  1. If the destination was really anywhere near the "UT station" out east on MLK, the rail trip would be a slam-dunk winner, even with its low frequency. Even with the 10 minute wait on the front-end, it's competitive with the car and would destroy the bus. Remember this when we talk again about light rail. Too bad we're not trying to build offices around that station - only residential TAD.
  2. A multi-door vehicle will be essential for loading/unloading. But even with two doors, it's going to take a few minutes to fill the seats. And the claim that the bus will always be there waiting for the train is not likely to be true based on experience with Tri-Rail in South Florida.
  3. A transfer to a streetcar would improve this only slightly. If running on reserved-guideway for most of its route, it would be more likely to be there on time, and the trip to UT would be a bit more reliable (although I'm being charitable right now and just accepting "10 minutes" for shuttle-bus anyways), but on the other hand, a streetcar that carries 1.5 to 2 busloads of people is going to take longer to load too. There's a reason transit people talk about the "transfer penalty", folks.
  4. Remember, the shuttle bus is dropping people off on San Jacinto, not Guadalupe. Go to UT sometime and see how many offices are along SJ sometime. Big mistake - but the administrators who run UT are apparently more interested in providing another spur to eventual rejuvenation of that side of campus than they are at actually serving their staff's needs.
  5. If I were in their shoes, I'd be taking the #101 already, and would continue to do so after the train opens.

Crestview Station to 6th/Congress

StepDriveLocal Bus (#1)Express Bus (#101)Rail/BusRail/Walk
120-30 minutesWait for bus (10 minutes)2Wait for bus (10 minutes)2Wait for train (10 minutes)2Wait for train (10 minutes)2
2Walk 0-10 minutes to office3Bus: 25-45 minutes5Bus: 20-35 minutes5Train: 18 minutesTrain: 18 minutes
3 Walk 0-5 minutes to officeWalk 0-5 minutes to officeTransfer to shuttle bus (5-10 minutes)4Walk 10-20 minutes to office6
4   Bus: 5-20 minutes1 
5   Walk 0-5 minutes to office 
Total Time20-40 minutes40-45 minutes33-38 minutes38-63 minutes38-48 minutes

Notes from superscripts above:

  1. Shuttle bus is likely to be much less reliable on the two routes being proposed for "downtown" than for the UT area based on traffic conditions. I've abandoned CM's 10 minute estimate in favor of a range here - 5 minutes for places close to the Convention Center on a good day; 20 minutes for the far reaches on a bad day.
  2. For the train you'll really want to be out there 10 minutes early (penalty for missing is a 30-minute wait), and 5 minutes for the bus (less penalty for missing), but the bus is less reliable, so I give both 10 minutes of "waiting time" for the bus running late.
  3. People driving downtown often have parking in their exact building (0 minute walk); but many have to park a block or more away - up to a 10-minute walk.
  4. Still going to be a bus loading wait here - varying depending on actual number of people using this service.
  5. NOT taking CM's word on the bus schedules here. Lots of unreliability when you have to go all the way past UT and then through half of downtown. I've taken their schedule times of 30 and 23 minutes respectively as about 1/4 through the range, because if buses get too far ahead of schedule, they'll actually slow down and/or stop in certain places to avoid missing pickups.
  6. The walk time here is to 6th/Congress, per my own estimate. Note that hardly anybody works anywhere near the Convention Center.

Conclusions for downtown trip:

  1. Again, the shuttle is the killer. Streetcar wouldn't help a whole lot on the loading front; but would be dramatically better on the travel-reliability front, if we get reserved guideway (would make a bigger difference downtown than on the route to UT).
  2. Note that if you were lucky enough to work at the Convention Center, your trip time would range from 28-38 minutes. In that imaginary scenario, I ride the train. Too bad we don't have much developeable land around the Convention Center for future office use. Again, this is the fatal flaw in deciding to run the train service where the tracks happen to be rather than where people actually need to go - and in this case, we can't fix it with office TOD because most of the land around the CC station is already developed - the Convention Center itself, recent hotels, etc..
  3. I'm staying on the #101, again.

One more question some are likely to ask: will worsening traffic make commuter rail more competitive on this trip? Answer: not likely. If bus travel times increased by 10 minutes in the downtown case, for instance, the shuttle bus trip is likely to increase too (5 more minutes, say) -- meaning that the two modes' total travel time really just continues to overlap, and on the low end of the rail/shuttle range to boot. Again, fatal flaw time: if you're trying to sell people on a transit trip with reliable time characteristics, you can't run a shuttle bus for the last half of the trip!

Next: Leander.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , Don't Hurt Us Mr. Krusee, We'll Do Whatever You Want , I Told You So , Republicans Hate Poor People , Republicans Hate Public Transportation , Republicans Hate The Environment , Texas Republicans Hate Cities , Transit in Austin , Transportation , Use Cases


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I agree with your conclusion but would only point out your data is a bit biased against auto trips.

Because most riders will have to drive to the train station and that additional time is not shown on your graph, it's highly probable that the difference between an auto trip and a train trip would be even greater.


This use case is from Crestview Station where rail and bus passengers would just walk a very short distance to the station or stop.

The Leander use case, coming up next, will include a drive to the station.

Even at Crestview, isn't the average rider likely to have to walk, ride or drive for at least an average of 5 to 10 minutes in order to get to the station? Let's put it this way. If they're not, then they're not riding the train either because there's just not that many people who live less than a 5 minute walk from the station.

I'd say that in the UT case, the auto time is biased in favor of auto trips. Of course, it depends on where on campus you park, but if you have a typical 'C' permit it's going to be more than 10 minutes and you might have to take another bus (the Disch Falk or whatever they call it now).

No, the whole point of starting with Crestivew was to hit the best-case scenario (people living in this supposed TOD who would be able to walk to the station).

Trust me; I'm getting to the other cases.

Kedron, what kind of permit is the "C" - is that student, staff, or faculty?

I also think it is, unfortunately, unrealistic to expect most riders from the Crestview Station to walk--and that the distance and time is trival. As a resident who has attended most of the public forum opportunities with Capital Metro, the access points for pedestrians to the station were poorly planned and are, consequently, inadequate--no above-ground bridge, for instance, from Airport or East of Lamar, nor are there any direct entry points from Grover, which lengthens the hike to the station. And, the strategies for handling park and riders are non-existent since the operating premise, which is more of an assumption, is that this is not a park-and ride--the fear, of course, is that this will manifest into more neighborhood street parking. My solution--and I reckon it will be a common one--is to bide and ride to the station and from the convention center.

Again, I'm being generous with the best-case scenario here - to point out that even when being generous, it still isn't a good option, thanks to the shuttle-bus transfer.

The bike/train/bike combo is a good one, but again, it would be smarter to bike/bus/bike, or just bike the whole way, at least from something this close in.

Sure, but of course that depends on your preference ordering and how you weight certain factors. Invariably, I'll sacrifice a bit of time for comfort, wi-fi, and not having to transfer and wait at a stop outside of a convenience store for 10-15 mins on 45th and Guadalupe. I ride the bus semi-regularly, and although its exceptionally reliable and generally pleasant, its a far cry--for me--from my experiences with commuter rail or trains.

But, your general point is spot-on and has been from the get-go: it is foolish to try to shoehorn commuter rail into a layout that is not aligned with the density patterns of the city. That I have to essentially loop around some of the densest areas, rather than travel through (straight up Lamar or Guadalupe, say) them is silly.

Something else to consider for those hoping to live at the Crestview TOD is the capacity of the transit system itself. By Capital Metro's own admission, the commuter rail will carry maybe 1,000 passengers per day. The way I picture it (even with the terrible route and end-of-line location), those trains will almost surely be completely full of riders by the time they get to Crestview, especially the ones running between 7 and 8:30.

On page 3 of the pdf from Capital Metro, why is the old MoKan corridor shown? Obviously the tracks are long gone, but I figured the ROW had been abandoned too, since the Dessau Road extension built a few years back sits on top of where the track was.

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